Despite abundant data on volcaniclastic sand(stone), the compositional, spatial and temporal distribution of volcanic detritus within the sedimentary record is poorly documented. One of the most intricate tasks in optical analysis of sand(stone) containing volcanic particles is to distinguish grains derived by erosion of ancient volcanic rocks (i.e. palaeovolcanic, noncoeval grains) from grains generated by active volcanism (subaqueous and/or subaerial) during sedimentation (neovolcanic, coeval grains).
Deep-marine volcaniclastic sandstones of the Middle Topanga Group of southern California are interstratified with 3000-m-thick volcanic deposits (both subaqueous and subaerial lava and pyroclastic rocks, ranging from basalt, andesite to dacite). These rocks overlie quartzofeldspathic sandstones (petrofacies 1) of the Lower Topanga Group, derived from deep erosion of a Mesozoic magmatic arc.
Changes in sandstone composition in the Middle Topanga Group provide an example of the influence of coeval volcanism on deep-marine sedimentation. Volcaniclastic strata were deposited in deep-marine portions of a turbidite complex (volcaniclastic apron) built onto a succession of intrabasinal lava flows and on the steep flanks of subaerially emplaced lava flows and pyroclastic rocks.
The Middle Topanga Group sandstones are vertically organized into four distinctive petrofacies (2–5). Directly overlying basalt and basaltic-andesite lava flows, petrofacies 2 is a pure volcanolithic sandstone, including vitric, microlitic and lathwork volcanic grains, and neovolcanic crystals (plagioclase, pyroxene and olivine). The abundance of quenched glass (palagonite) fragments suggests a subaqueous neovolcanic provenance, whereas sandstones including andesite and minor basalt grains suggest subaerial neovolcanic provenance. This petrofacies probably was deposited during syneruptive Periods, testifying to provenance from both intrabasinal and extrabasinal volcanic events. Deposited during intereruptive periods, impure volcanolithic petrofacies 3 includes both neovolcanic (85%) and older detritus derived from plutonic, metamorphic and palaeovolcanic rocks. During post-eruptive periods, the overlying quartzofeldspathic petrofacies 4 and 5 testify to progressive decrease of neovolcanic detritus (48–14%) and increase of plutonic-metamorphic and palaeovolcanic detritus.
The Upper Topanga Group (Calabasas Formation), conformably overlying the Middle unit, has dominantly plutoniclastic sandstone (petrofacies 6). Neovolcanic detritus is drastically reduced (4%) whereas palaeovolcanic detritus is similar to percentages of the Lower Topanga Group (petrofacies 1).
In general, the volcaniclastic contribution represents a well-defined marker in the sedimentary record. Detailed compositional study of volcaniclastic strata and volcanic particles (including both compositional and textural attributes) provides important constraints on deciphering spatial (extrabasinal vs. intrabasinal) and temporal relationships between neovolcanic events (pre-, syn-, inter- and post-eruptive periods) and older detritus.